František Rauch, Jan Panenka. Chopin Waltzes & Schumann Carnaval

Two more Czech pianists in Supraphon recordings from the 1950s today. František Rauch (1910-95) became familiar to me through the excellent Supraphon set of the piano works of his one-time composition teacher, Vitezslav Novák, which is available on CD, and is well worth investigating for such unknown works as his 53 minutes Pan, A Poem in Tones, Op. 43. My first hearing of this version of the Chopin Waltzes left me a bit cold. It is a rigorous, rather severe reading on the surface and on first acquaintance. But while I was working on my transfer of the lp I began to appreciate the honesty and beauty of the playing, and ultimately a great respect for Rauch bringing out aspects of the Waltzes, that, rightly or wrongly eschews dominance by the dance element. So, don’t look for a seductive lilt here, but instead a rather even-toned approach, which reminds me somewhat of Dinu Lipatti’s way with the works. Interestingly, in this essay I found by Rauch, entitled My Chopin, he mentions that one of his early teachers found his playing of a work by Chopin unevenly and set him on the Liszt Sonata as something with less stringent requirements in that regard! In, any event, he seems to have conquered that early tendency, and this recording displays pianism of a high order in terms of tonal control.

Jan Panenka (1922-99) is better known than Rauch today, and a number of his later recordings remain in print, including many from his excellent collaboration with violinist Josef Suk. Panenka’s approach has much in common with many of his Czech predecessors and contemporaries: economy of expression, clarity and a somewhat sober temperament. Thus, his Carnaval really does hang together in a remarkable sense, which downplays the schizophrenic element emphasized by many pianists. His fresh approach does clarify some oft smudged passages (remarkably so in “Paganini”, for instance), and once again, the honesty of his approach pays musical dividends.

To turn to a bit of generalization for a moment, there is an undeniable modernity to the performing style of many Czech musicians who came of age in the first few decades of the 20th century. This “Czech Modernism”, notable in all of the arts of this period is perhaps a first cousin to Germany’s “Neue Sachlichkeit”. The rise of National Socialism in Germany, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia may have put a halt to many types of artistic, not to mention other freedoms at the time, but in terms of musical performing styles, the cat was already out of the bag!

Chopin: Waltzes (14)
František Rauch, Piano

Supraphon SUA 10168

Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9
Jan Panenka, Piano

Supraphon LPM 296 (10″ Lp)

Recorded in the 1950s.


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